“Can you not do the whole, um, pap smear?” I quickly made eye contact with the nurse, who, up until then, had been fumbling with the crinkly OB gown, the one she wanted me to put on.
“I’m not sexually active and, I just, it’s really not necessary I know I’m fine.”
“Well,” she hesitated, “I can certainly let Dr. Jeffrey know your request, but just so you know,” she quickly flipped through my chart, “it looks like you haven’t gotten an internal exam in…over 2 years.” She stared at me. “And we really like our patients to have an annual exam once they turn eighteen.”
With that she closed the door and left me alone to change into the paper dress, waiting for the knock from the doctor. I sat on the edge of the table and took deep breaths.
You’re fine…you’re fine…this is routine…everyone does this.
The knock came.
“You don’t want an internal?”
“Can I ask why?” She wasn’t warm. She wasn’t kind. She didn’t sit down and pull her chair in close to me and put me at ease. She didn’t see that I was clearly bothered, tell me to put my clothes back on and come into her office to chat with her about what “the issue” was. She just stared at her clipboard. “You’re 22, Caroline?”
“No,” I started, “I mean, yes, I’m sexual but, I don’t have sex, not,” I motioned to my vagina, “intercourse.”
“So other things?”
She looked at me again. “What’s “the issue” with the pap smear?” she asked.
“It makes me uncomfortable. I squirm. I just…it hurts. I don’t like it, I tense up. It happens when I try to have sex, too. I mean I don’t try that often I’ve just tried a few times. With my boyfriend,” I added.
She “mmhmm”d and continued to look at her chart, “and how long have you been with you boyfriend?”
“And you’ve never had sex?”
“No. But we’ve tried…I’m really just overwhelmed by the idea of it…I can’t get myself to um, open up…”
“Caroline,” she flipped all the pages so that her thumb rested on the top page, “we won’t do an internal today. But you need to take care of this. Or your boyfriend is going to leave you.”
And with that she left the room.
Her last sentence continues to echo in my head. And that conversation?
That conversation happened two years ago. And my boyfriend did leave me. And I am a 24 year old virgin, terrified of sex.
Instead of drinking, I dyed my hair. Instead of partying at 15 years old, I would go for car rides with boys and let the lyrics to popular songs guide my adolescence.
Friends started to have sex. There were stories of bleeding and awkward mornings after.
I’d say “I haven’t had sex yet because I haven’t found anyone I loved and trusted enough to want to roll over and see next to me in the morning, and not, you know, like, puke.”
“You’re so smart,” they’d tell me when their high school boyfriends were sleeping with girls at other lunch tables.
I met Chris on the first day of college and the outline of his body pressed into my bed sheets for 8 months. Both virgins, we planned on being each other’s firsts. But in the dark moments we moved together not knowing how or what to do. And so we would kiss, and feel, and love so hard, sharing smiles that said this was enough for both of us. And then we broke up.
I spiraled downward with my first broken heart. I threw away the bottles of medication that made me fat. I tried to sleep over the soundtrack to the rest of my friends going out and living life. I was not meant to live, I thought. But I ended up living anyway.
My parents could see I was unhappy. So they did what they thought good parents should and would do – they bribed me in order to motivate me. 6 months later, I traded an unhealthily lost 47 lbs for a brand new car.
Overnight I went from being fat, awkward, unpopular, and lonely, to being beautiful, thin, living in my first apartment up at school for the summer, dating the popular guy at work and sought after.
My phone would ring all day long.
What are we doing tonight? Party at your place?
For 30 days in my 19th year, I led my idea of a perfect life.
On the 31st day, I woke up alone in my bed after a party to find my popular boyfriend asleep with another counselor in the living room. He continued to fuck her all summer long, but pose as my boyfriend in our happy relationship.
And I let him. I wanted the pictures of me in a bikini being tossed over the shoulder of my hot boyfriend much more than I wanted someone to hold me as I fell asleep.
I had tons of pictures from that summer.
Not an ounce of trust.
I didn’t know what I had done to deserve so much continual rejection, but I was determined to pick myself up and keep going. After all, this was college, I would tell myself. It doesn’t mean anything.
College was coming to a close when Dave and I were four months into our relationship. Our love started out as best friendship – the kind of partnering you pay 13.00 to watch in a movie theater on a Friday night. I was sure this was it. I surrendered and waved the white flag, fully prepared to leap.
“I’m ready,” I breathed.
“Ok,” he kissed my forehead and pushed forward.
I tightened up.
“Babe, relax,” he said.
I started breathing in and out, in and out.
“Is it in?” I asked, wincing.
A single tear rolled down my face. I was twenty two fucking years old with the sexual capability of a senior in high school. I felt like a fucking idiot. Why did I think this would be so fucking easy?
“Just fucking put it in, Dave.”
And then I felt it. Immediately my legs closed and went into fetal position and I kicked Dave off of me, the balls of my feet against his chest.
“What the HELL?!” he shouted, “Are you fucking out of your mind?”
“I AM NOT DOING THIS,” I screamed, “I can’t. It hurts. I’m not ready. I just can’t. I can’t do this, Dave.”
He stared at me.
“My body won’t let me,” I whispered.
Days and weeks and months passed by. Seasons ran their course, semesters ended, final grades were received.
“Do you wanna try, babe?”
“Um…maybe,” I’d say, but then we wouldn’t.
A year had come and gone and Dave stopped asking, and I stopped trying to put tampons in or finger myself with lube or even read up on “the issue”.
Our relationship became tense and unloving. It was strained. I found myself in a mindset that I imagined infertile women were in when they’d see their pregnant friends, the ones who “weren’t even trying to have a baby.” I’d watch shows like Teen Mom, or hear my 17 year old cousin ask me for sex advice and I’d become beyond agitated.
I wanted to shake them and tell them they were way too young to be having sex. And I wanted to shake myself because I WASN’T too young. But I couldn’t do it.
Dave eventually did leave me, citing “you need to learn how to fuck” as the largest of our irreconcilable differences in our almost three year long relationship.
I became his survivor story. I was the sentence said over tall glasses of Blue Moon in dark bars with friends.
“I can’t believe you haven’t fucked in 3 years, dude.”
“I know,” he’d say.
“We need to get you some pussy, dude.”
“I know,” he’d say.
No longer a lover. No longer a friend. Just someone he never fucked.
And now I lie in bed awake almost every night in my apartment alone. I think about the secrets I won’t tell people, I think about the guys who I won’t go home with. I think about the amount of time it will take for a guy to become invested in me for him to not want to leave when I explain this ridiculous fear that manifests within me.
I think about the marriage I want, and the children I want. I think about how it must feel to be loved unconditionally for every flaw.
And I think about the fear of letting go and letting someone in. And I think about how not metaphorical that idea is.
I think about that conversation with my OB/GYN 2 years ago. I think about how I drove home that day, determined to figure out my fears and my anxiety and my thoughts as soon as possible. I think about how 2 years ago I swore that in 2 years, I’d be fine. I’d be on track.
And then I think about how quickly two years can come and go.
And then I cry, hard and heavy tears.
The only things I am able to let go of.